Five Tips for a Successful Transition Back to Singapore

In recent years, more overseas Singaporeans are choosing to Balik Kampung (Malay for return home). Ivy Low of Robert Walters shares five tips for easing the transition, and how you may seize opportunities in the country’s vibrant tech sector.

By Ivy Low | 13 July 2022

For the past seven years, Ivy Low has led the Balik Kampung (‘return home’ in Malay) campaign at Robert Walters, which connects overseas Singaporeans with job roles back home.

After spending years building a life in a foreign land, making the transition back to Singapore may seem daunting. Some worry about integrating non-Singaporean family members, others are concerned about work-life balance and overcoming reverse culture shock. 

Regardless, Singaporeans abroad have consistently expressed a strong desire to return home. The biggest motivation to move back is family, with candidates often reaching a stage in their lives where they desire to live closer to their ageing parents. Based on surveys of Robert Walters’ database of overseas Singaporeans, the proportion of respondents intending to return has risen significantly from 82% in 2014 to 98% in 2021. 

Common concerns about moving back home

Some Singaporeans worry that returning to Singapore means coming home for good. If this is your concern, my advice is to take it one step at a time. The future is never certain; it is hard to predict what opportunities may come your way, or how your plans may change. Do what is right for your current circumstance and see how things pan out over the next one or two years. Indeed, we have had some candidates who returned to Singapore during the pandemic go abroad again once the situation overseas stabilised. 

Others are concerned about difficulties in adjusting to the work culture in Singapore, particularly if they’ve been in a Western environment for a long time. These worries are not unfounded, but flexible work arrangements are becoming more prevalent in Singapore – certainly among tech companies – since the onset of the pandemic. 

Many large corporations have fully adopted hybrid or remote work, and work flexibility is highly encouraged by the government. Notably, it has become a standard requirement among employees, with some even resigning when their company reverts to a complete return to office. 

One possible way of mitigating this apprehension is to join a global firm in Singapore rather than jumping straight into a local company where the culture may be less familiar. That said, it is important to assess a company’s culture based on the interaction and information gathered during the interview process as there are startups that value flexibility as much as the MNCs. 

Five tips for moving back home

A successful relocation back to Singapore may be undermined by a lack of planning or several common oversights and misconceptions. Here are my top five tips based on my experience with candidates that I have worked with over the years.

Determine your planning time frame
Candidates are often surprised that it takes anywhere from three months to a year to land a job. The general rule of thumb is, the more senior you are, the longer it takes to find the right fit. On the flip side, if you’re mid-level and have an in-demand skill set, then you need to be ready to move within two to three months or risk missing out on job opportunities.

Plan according to this time frame and settle all administrative and logistical arrangements – from your children’s education to the shipment of your belongings – ahead of your move.
Work with recruiters who specialise in your field
This helps you gain a sense of your market value, how quickly processes may move forward, and how competitive the offers you receive are. Sometimes, the advice of any one recruiter may be lopsided based on their personal experiences, but rest assured that we at Robert Walters offer a comprehensive view based on our deep expertise and extensive experience across many industries.
Step back and prioritise
Moving back to Singapore is a big undertaking, and all the aspects you need to take care of can be overwhelming. But don’t wait for every aspect to fall into place perfectly, because that day may never come.

Some sacrifices may be necessary. You may have to give up your car, your spouse may have to move first before finding a job, or your child may not enter the school of their choice. What are your priorities? So long as the top few are met, you should be good to go. Everything else will eventually fall into place.
Be clear about what you’re looking for
This applies to jobseekers in general, but it is challenging for recruiters to work with candidates who aren’t clear about their career direction. Being specific about the type of role you’re aiming for helps recruiters shortlist the right opportunities for you.

Aside from this, update your LinkedIn and leverage your personal network – friends, ex-classmates, ex-colleagues based in Singapore – who may be able to refer you to good openings. Joining a network such as the Singapore Global Network may also be helpful in widening your network.
Understand Singapore’s hiring practices
Unlike in some other markets, companies in Singapore will likely inquire about current salary, even though candidates are under no legal obligation to reveal this information. Candidates should also note that, while expat packages were commonplace in the past, their value has fallen and many companies have dispensed with them altogether.
Understanding Singapore’s hiring practices is crucial when it comes to salary and contract negotiations.

Seizing opportunities in tech

Once dominated by the banking sector, Singapore has also emerged to become a prominent tech hub. As companies accelerate their digital transformation, partly due to the pandemic, tech candidates with highly sought-after skills are increasingly receiving multiple offers. In fact, 80% of the placements I facilitate today are in tech. 

As Singapore’s tech scene continues to develop rapidly with robust government support, we are seeing abundant opportunities in areas such as: 

  • Data science and analytics, where financial services and retail companies are analysing user behaviours to grow their businesses 
  • Cybersecurity, since companies are strengthening their defences to fend off the rise of data breaches and ransomware 
  • Digital transformation, where companies are looking to digitally overhaul their systems and processes 
  • Fintech, which includes everything from digital banks and mobile payments to crypto and AI trading 
  • HR and accounting, which are non-technical roles but candidates do benefit from tech industry experience 

The steady growth of the tech sector has resulted in plenty of roles that need to be filled and incredibly stiff competition for candidates. These days, it is not uncommon for hirers to offer a 20 to 30% increase in compensation to attract the talent they need. 

Resources for the journey ahead

Ultimately, if you’re planning to ‘balik kampung’, there are many resources at your disposal. Job platforms like LinkedIn and eFinancialCareers offer useful articles, and industry reports like the Robert Walters Salary Survey can help you gauge your standing. 

Be sure to join relevant Facebook groups like SingaporeConnect (based in the Bay area), Little Red Dot in Hong Kong and Singaporeans in the UK, and connect with Singapore Global Network’s regional representatives to link up with their industry and community contacts. Last but not least, feel free to reach out to me to chat about relocation concerns or learn about career opportunities! 

To learn more about working in Singapore, download the Singapore Global Network’s free guide. 

About Ivy

Ivy is an international candidate manager at Robert Walters. Since 2014, she has spearheaded their Balik Kampung campaign to connect with overseas Singaporeans looking to return home. 

Connect with her here

Robert Walters

Since 1985, Robert Walters has been on a mission to be the world’s leading specialist professional recruitment consultancy, powering people and organisations to fulfil their unique potential. Today, the global business operates in a diverse range of markets and is relied upon by the world’s leading businesses. 

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